August 22, 2011

Texas Drought and Climate Change

The latest data from the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for July 2011 shows the Texas drought to be right about the worst in the historical record. It is extremely tempting to attribute the drought to climate change, but the graphic suggests it got just as bad in 1918 and 1956. Stuart Staniford, who reproduces the chart from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, notes that the drought isn't over and that "it could well be the worst Texas drought ever before it's done," but also that we don't "have license to attribute it to climate change yet, since there's no overall trend in the Texas PDSI data (in contrast to California) and the drought is not yet bad enough to argue that we've crossed some kind of threshold into an ahistorical climate state." Since "the current event is not outside the envelope of historical events back when climate forcings where a lot smaller, . . . you cannot use droughts in Texas as any kind of evidence that climate change is happening or is bad. This is quite apart from the fact that any single event is hard to use as evidence - there simply is no trend, suggesting that Texas droughts are not sensitive indicators of climate change (in contrast say to Antarctic glaciers or polar ice sheets or probably even droughts in California all of which evince clear change in the climate-change-expected direction that cannot be explained by the respective null hypotheses)." That could change if the drought got a lot worse, adds Staniford, but not yet.

The other hypothesis, which the cautious Staniford does not investigate, is the theory of divine perturbation. The Almighty has been taxed previously by bad behavior from Texans, after all, but never so much as recently. Working circumspectly and with all deliberate speed, so as not to draw attention, but taking cognizance of Texas's rotten record and of the sinfulness and hypocrisy of its leaders, He has just thrown in the towel. He has decided that nothing is better deserved for the Lone Star state than earthly proximity to hellish fires. He is not listening to their stupid prayers for rain; He is past caring.

God, to be sure, is also extremely upset over the budget deficit and the behavior of American politicians, especially Democrats. As Michelle Bachman, a noted authority on God's thinking, recently declared: "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'"

Update: The Bachman camp says she was joking, according to one of my students. By contrast, I am entirely serious.

Weighing in on my side is Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma: “Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that 'as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.' My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

This graphic from the Chicago Tribune, reporting data from Texas A&M, estimates the costs of the Texas drought at more than $5 billion.


h/t Desdemona Despair

No comments: